Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 68

Three days after signing a Treaty of Union with neighboring Belarus, Russian President Boris Yeltsin on April 5 made a nationwide radio address in which he criticized Belarus’ human rights record and said union between the two countries is not a foregone conclusion. Yeltsin assured Russian listeners their living standards would not be hit if union went ahead. He also acknowledged there was concern in Russia over the lack of freedom of speech in Belarus and said Russia would do all within its power to ensure that democratic freedoms, including press freedom, were observed in Belarus. (RTR, Itar-Tass, April 5)

Also on April 5, Russia’s Foreign Ministry expressed concern about the use of force by Minsk police against demonstrators and journalists covering the April 2 demonstration there. (See Monitor, April 3) A ministry statement reminded the Belarusan government of its obligation to ensure freedom of information and adequate working conditions for journalists. (Itar-Tass, April 5)

In a related development, Yeltsin sacked his chief foreign policy adviser, Dmitry Ryurikov. Ryurikov was responsible for drafting the original 17-page draft treaty which, under pressure from the liberal wing of the Russian government led by first deputy premiers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, was cut to three pages before it was signed by Yeltsin and Belarusan president Aleksandr Lukashenko last week. Russian news agencies, quoting unidentified administration officials, said Yeltsin was angry over Ryurikov’s handling of the affair. According to unconfirmed reports, Ryurikov will be replaced by presidential press spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, April 5)

Public opinion poll data show the Russian population divided over union with Belarus. While 24 percent of Muscovites (mainly older respondents) think the economic impact of union will be positive and a further 22 percent believe it will do no harm, 40 percent say the economic effect will be harmful for Russia. And as many as 69 percent of respondents oppose the idea of Belarusan president Aleksandr Lukashenko as head of a Russia-Belarus confederation. Only the elderly and the less educated think he would make a good leader. (NTV, April 6)

Nemtsov, interviewed by Russian TV yesterday, said he spent several hours in Moscow last week in conversation with Lukashenko. He made it clear that he considered Lukashenko’s lack of enthusiasm for private enterprise a serious impediment to the proposed union. (RTR, April 6)

More Changes in Russian Government.